By Karen Buck
Joey Kolbe, a professional wildlife photographer, leaned against a rock and sipped his coffee. His 22-pound camouflaged zoom lens was focused on his local and personal project: the lives of two coyote siblings living in the Forest Dale region of Malden, MA.
Ten years ago, Kolbe and his family moved to Malden. He was intrigued with the coyotes after his first local sighting in 2013. His coyote project started in 2016 by filming a family of four, but by 2022 he was putting a more in-depth focus on the two siblings living in the Forest Dale neighborhood. Kolbe has observed these local Song Dogs for thousands of hours.
The Wildlife Photographer Lens
Kolbe’s passion was sparked from an experience with his eight-year-old daughter two years ago. They had been exploring the Fells and were sitting by one of the water stations. Several coyotes appeared and were curious about the father and daughter. The coyotes smelled the air; Kolbe described, “The bubble [atmosphere of smells and reactions] around us is very important to them. It was a great feeling of camaraderie and peace. Ever since that day, I said I am going to keep working on this documentary and my kids will finish it.”
Kolbe’s film trajectory started as a puppet animator and he became a lead cinematographer. Even so, Kolbe’s passion was for photographing wildlife. When his film company shut down Kolbe worked freelance for well-known programs including National Geographic and Animal Planet.
The love of the coyotes kindled his interest in photographing them.
“They aren’t aggressive; they are wild animals and you have to treat them that way,” Kolbe said, emphasizing the coyotes’ intelligence and strategy of socializing. “Unlike the fox, coyotes are very interesting since if they know they are being observed, they will change their habits, such as sleeping and napping. The change is subtle, yet they change everything: they don’t become skittish or afraid or territorial but they perform with knowledge of you. Foxes will take off. Fishers will chase you. The coyotes are completely at ease with their surroundings.” In fact, they love the cemetery for its structures such as stones and statues.
By Karen Buck
Kolbe has spent thousands of hours observing the coyotes play, curl up to snuggle together, and take care of each other. “Coyotes are excited about kinship from birth to death,” he said. Kolbe documents this with over 4,000 photos and three hours of film. This personal project will develop into a documentary film, Prairie Wolf, the American Jackal.
The Public Lens
Kolbe enjoys speaking with his neighbors about his passion. “I tell folks what I am doing. Everyone has a story about coyotes.” Some stories are admirable of coyotes – ‘We love them, they never bother us. Or, ‘the coyotes are annoying because they disturb my dogs.’ What Kolbe would like to change is the response of: “if I see them again, I will shoot them.”
Lately, backyard cameras have brought to light that the coyotes wander through our neighborhoods due to their curious nature and easy access to food [trash]. Their wanderings and over a dozen vocalizations can create confusion about the actual numbers of coyote residents. Coyotes are not nocturnal. Misleading facts can create misgivings when people see coyotes during the day; these coyotes are healthy. Their wonderful grayish/reddish fur coats make them look larger than they are. The Eastern Coyotes average 35 -55 pounds, about half the weight of a Labrador Retriever.
“We, the City of Malden, receive a couple of inquiries about coyotes a day,” reports Kevin Alkins, who has been the Malden Animal Control Officer for 24 years. Public relations, education and awareness are important aspects of his job.
“I have received calls of curiosity such as ‘there is a coyote lying in my yard – is something wrong with it?’ or ‘I didn’t know that we have coyotes in Malden’.” Alkins reiterates that the coyotes are healthy. They are timid and shy and are always planning how to safely return to their home in the woods.
Alkins values the coyotes as an important part of our natural resources and ecosystem. Coyotes are opportunistic hunters and prefer “fast food” like all of us! They usually hunt rodents – which is important for rodent population control. Rodent control balances our eco-system and reduces disease transmissions. They also eat insects, lizards, snakes, vegetables, and fruits.
“We need to learn to coexist with coyotes,” Alkins said. “The notion to relocate the coyotes will not work. They live throughout the Commonwealth.”
Living with Coyotes
Coyotes’ natural behavior is to wander. The public reports that the hood is inundated with coyotes. In actuality, Forest Dale has two resident coyotes – one and a half to two-year-old siblings. There is an occasional third coyote visitor from the Fells.
Kolbe mentions that we may see an uptick of coyotes’ movements during the approaching mating season. This does not create aggression, just a bit more roaming and visitation. There is little to no competition between the soloists, so the rejected males just move on. Coyotes are generally monogamous and excellent parents. The high rate of pup mortality (50%-60%) reduces the family size to about two or three surviving pups. If the coyotes sense a vacuum due to relocation or reduction of their population, they will increase the size of their litters [births]. This is one reason that they have survived genocide by humans over hundreds of years.
In the meantime, Kolbe has a documentary to make.
“This work is more personal and not so lucrative,” Kolbe said, “but let’s see what we can do to help. These are the animals that [people] are so afraid of. Let’s take a deeper look into their lifestyle and debunk the myths that people are so quick to believe.”
- DON’T FEED OR TRY TO PET COYOTES: Keep wild things wild! Feeding, whether direct or indirect, can cause coyotes to act tame and may lead to bold behavior. Coyotes that rely on natural foods remain wild and wary of humans.
- SECURE YOUR GARBAGE: Coyotes raid open trash materials and compost piles. Secure your garbage in tough plastic containers with tight fitting lids and keep them in secure buildings when possible. Take out trash when the morning pick up is scheduled, not the previous night. Keep compost in secure, vented containers, and keep barbecue grills clean to reduce attractive odors.
- PET OWNERS: Although free roaming pets are more likely to be killed by automobiles than by wild animals, coyotes do view cats and small dogs as potential food, and larger dogs as competition. For the safety of your pets, keep them leashed at all times, using no more than a 6 foot leash. Additionally, feed your pets indoors. Outdoor feeding can attract many wild animals
- KEEP BIRD FEEDER AREAS CLEAN: Use feeders designed to keep seed off the ground, as the seed attracts many small mammals coyotes prey upon. Remove feeders if coyotes are regularly seen around your yard.
- CLOSE OFF CRAWL SPACES: Coyotes will use areas under porches and sheds for resting and raising young. Close these areas off to prevent animals from using them.
- DON’T LET COYOTES INTIMIDATE YOU: Don’t hesitate to scare or threaten coyotes with loud noises, bright lights, or water sprayed from a hose.
Malden Animal Control has coordinated a public meeting with a Mass Wildlife expert, Chalis Bird, and Malden officials to share information and listen to concerns. The meeting takes place on January 26th at the Forestdale School at 6:30 PM. Urban Media Arts will be covering the forum for later playback on the MATV Government Access Cable Channel and the MATV YouTube Channel.